Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz: Farinet ou la fausse monnaie [Farinet or the Forged Money]
Maurice Farinet has not had a particularly easy childhood. His father was a smuggler and poacher, who died when Maurice was still fairly young. It was the custom at grape harvest time for the men of his village to go down to the valley to help with the harvest and then return after the grape harvest. Maurice went down but never came back. He met a man, Sage, who had a reputation as a herbalist, as being something of a sorcerer and who had, apparently, found a source of gold in the hills. This man was looking for a young apprentice. Farinet applied and the two hit it off. Eventually, Sage showed Farinet where the gold was and allowed Farinet to mine the gold himself. Once Sage died, Farinet had sole control of it. Farinet decided the best way to use the gold was to make twenty franc coins out of it and, in a secluded hiding place, did just that. His view was that his coins were made of gold and were of better quality than those issued by the government, so no-one could complain. The locals, indeed, were willing to accept them. The government, of course, took a different view. The police came after him and, though he escaped, he was caught and arrested in Italy. He was sentenced to prison. He managed to escape.
He returned home to Mièges but thought that was too risky, as he would be recognised, so went to the nearby town of Sion. On arrival, he entered a café. He was starving so ordered a bottle of wine and some bread and cheese. He made sure to keep his cap over his face and had grown a beard so was sure he would not be recognised. However, when paying, with one of his last twenty franc pieces that he had collected, the waitress said, Thank you, Mr Farinet. Not only had she recognised him, she was happy to accept his forged money. She even arranged for him to stay in a room in the café. Everyone welcomed him and no-one turned him in. However, the police soon got wind of his reappearance and they appeared one day. Two came into the back of the café and two into the front, revolvers drawn and he was again arrested and this time imprisoned in Switzerland.
The book actually opens with a detailed description of his escape for a second time. Josephine, the waitress from the café, had managed to smuggle in a file and some rope so he had little difficulty. On escaping he immediately went to his family’s house – he had had no contact with them for nine years – where he found his brother and learned that his sisters had married and his mother was bed-ridden. Of course, the police came looking for him but he was always one jump ahead of them. Ramuz makes much of the fact that this was his territory and that the police, who were from the other end of the valley, had no hope of catching him. However, one of the old men warns that Josephine could be trouble.
He himself relishes in his freedom but, at the same time, recognises that staying free, particularly hiding out in the mountains during winter, may be impractical. However, he has no money except for his forged coins so cannot see a way of escaping. Then a local councillor, who has strong ties with the government, makes him an offer: surrender within the next three weeks and he will serve only six more months in jail, provided, of course, he completely gives up his forgery. Initially, he rejects the offer out of hand and, indeed, runs off to the mountains and is not seen by anyone. But this gives him time to think.
The book is, of course, about freedom. Farinet wants to be a free man but on his terms. He comes to realise – and if he does not, others remind him – that freedom brings responsibility. Clearly, there are laws to be obeyed, there is the welfare of others and, perhaps almost of equal importance, the responsibility we have to those we love and those who love us. If we ignore those responsibilities, freedom is going to be a hard burden to carry. Ramuz tells the story well and shows us how Farinet is thinking, his attachment to his mountains and his realisation that life may not be as simple as we sometimes think.
First published in French 1932 by Mondrouge, Paris
No English translation
Published in German as Farinet oder das falsche Geld in 1972 by Huber
Published in Italian as Farinet il falsario in 198 by Jaca Book
Also published in Japanese, Polish, Romananian